Aug 302010

Around 1 PM I decided that I needed some groceries. Upon my return, the garage door didn’t work; upon entry into the house, it was clear that the electricity was off. This is not an uncommon occurance out here in the sticks, but the power *stayed* off. A phone call to the power company got the robot who told me that they were aware of the problem, that the problem was caused by line trouble, a crew was on-site, and they’d have the problem fixed in about 4 hours. Since most of my plans for the day required electricity, I decided instead to wander off with the camera and see what was worth photographing. Since it was partly cloudy and we’ve just gotten our first snow (yay), I figured there’d be some good shots.

 Within a few minutes of wandering down the road, I determined the source of the electrical outage: one of the power poles had caught fire, burned all the way through, and the top had toppled off, taking down some wires. None of the electrical stuff on the pole looked like it had arced, exploded or in any other way caused the fire, and the fire did not seem to have been anywhere near the wires. My best explanation is that the pole was the target of a secret military laser weapon test. Or a Jihadi starling flew into it. Other than that, I’m kinda out of ideas.




 Posted by at 8:01 pm
  • kbob42

    Well, now. That is a hell of a thing.
    BTW, FIRST SNOW!?!?!?

  • admin

    > FIRST SNOW!?!?!?

    I thought it was kinda early for the first snow, but the power guy on the scene said that it’s been earlier. I’ll have photos of that later (they were taken with the backup point&click camera, as I didn’t have the Nikon with me at the time).

  • Pat Flannery

    It sure cut it off neat, whatever did it.
    Almost looks like someone used a shaped charge wrapped around it to sever it.

  • 2hotel9

    There is a secondary ground wire, grounding the crossbar and its hardware, that attaches at the point just below the bar, the point where the pole is smoking. A question, not just for Scott. How many of you have noticed the utility pole ground wires being missing? Usually from ground level to a height of about 10 feet. That could well be the source of that fire.

  • Michael Holt

    I can’t wait for the explanation for this one.

  • Jim the Elder

    There may be a less sinister explanation – woodpeckers. For some reason they love telephone poles.

    Or it could be scouts from an impending alien invasion.

    Or squirrels with laser beams.

    You pick.

  • George Allegrezza

    We had a similar transformer across the street when I was growing up. Conn. Light and Power was notorious n those days for shall we say deferred maintenance, and those transformers (or more correctly, the fuse within) used to blow with some regularity. The noise and accompanying flash would definitely wake you out of a sound sleep. Must be a lot of potential energy released when it trips.

  • Pat Flannery

    Yeah, we had a transformer blow around a block from here once, and the flash was so bright that it was visible through my dark green bedroom curtains in broad daylight, and the noise sounded like some had set a grenade off just outside the building. In that case is was due to water getting into the transformer insulating oil, causing it to short.
    This thing appears to have occurred above the transformer height though, and the transformer itself looks undamaged.
    The fact that the two halves of the break are apparently burning seems to rule out it simply suffering a structural failure like woodpeckers could cause.
    It almost looks like an effect you would get if it were hit by lightning causing the water in the wood to expand into steam and break it apart like what happens in trees.
    Assuming there were no storms around when it broke, could some sort of electric arc have formed around the outside of the pole and basically sawed it in half as the plasma flame burned into the wood?

  • High-voltage hot wire to the transformer input arced to the pole, pole caught fire, circuit interruptors tripped when the top fell onto the drop wire, which has almost certainly got a bare ground wire in it. (The drop wires are fed off the transformer secondary, 240/120-0-120 Volts to the house).

    This is pretty common for a pole fire; the high side could be anything from 14.7kV down to 3300V and it does like to arc. The wire is supposed to be dressed clear of the pole but sometimes they sag. You can see the hot wire in the second photo down; there’s a fuse/disconnect (which does not seem to have blown) between it and one phase wire.

  • Pat Flannery

    You can’t fool me, “Roberta X”; you’re none other than Natasha Tesla, illegitimate granddaughter of Nikola Tesla…I see our little telephone pole subterfuge has lured you out of hiding at last.
    Now we want the plans for the death ray.
    And we want them _now_ !
    I have a pigeon here…don’t make me get rough with it for the sake of your grandfather’s memory.

    T. Edison IV

  • Michael Holt

    Thanks, Roberta. Would they have to set a new pole?

  • It depends. If that pole has stopped smoldering and there’s no reason to not give up a few feet in height, maybe not. Or they can bolt a new piece of pole to the old one, or just set a new one.

    A lot of this depends on the crew, the power company’s own practices, any regulations that apply (minimum pole height, minimum clearance for the drops to houses, etc.) and how much of a hurry they’re in.

    The standard-issue Power & Light lineman is like Paul Bunyan in rubber gloves; they see something like this several times a week and view the fixing of it as an afternoon’s diversion. Watching one of them swap out an insulator on a 25-foot-high pole from the ground (using a very long “hot stick” with a bunch of specialized ends) is an education.

    Pat: interestingly, a fondness for the pigeon is not inheritable; past that, I’m not sayin’ nuthin’. 😉

  • Michael Holt

    But are you absolutely certain it was matter of a arc?

  • admin

    > Or they can bolt a new piece of pole to the old one, or just set a new one.

    They set a new one. Drove by today, nice new green real live unburnt dead pole in its place.